“We as people will not be broken and are instruments of own destinies,” said LSA Okuna Odaba, a self-described born-again Christian.

For more than 20 years now, Social Work Prof. Robert Taylor, his wife Linda Chatters and author Jeff Levin have been conducting research on the aspects of religion that blacks extol.

Taylor and Levin said they found that religious participation through prayer and communal church life strengthens spiritual sustenance and can serve as a safeguard against unexpected stressors.

“The notion of self worth and resiliency in religious traditions has perpetuated through time within the black community,” Taylor said.

Their studies used a survey to primarily understand Christianity in the lives of African Americans. Their assessment of data has produced insight regarding the “positive associations between aspects of religiosity like prayer and Bible reading with overall satisfaction with life,” Taylor said, referring to “Religion in the Lives of African Americans,” the book he co-authored with Chatters and Levin published this year. Taylor and Levin said they found that religious participation through prayer and communal church life strengthens spirituality and can serve as a safeguard against unexpected stressors.

Self-described atheist Gwyneth Hayes said she agrees that religion and church build a sense of community but rebuts the portrayal of “serving a higher being. … The notion of women like myself getting on her knees and genuflecting to a higher being, which through social conditioning is a white male, is an oppressive thought,” said Hayes, an LSA junior.

LSA Junior Sierra Taylor, who ascribes to the Church of God Church of Christ, said the church promotes community building. “Religion through the church also awards members the power to demean another person’s actions through judgment,” Taylor said. “Many people come to church wearing a facade in the attempt to seem holier than thou.”

“Social congregation and gossip were the emphasis in my church,” Hayes said. “Many of the persons that wanted to ‘bless me’ were out drinking and such the night before,” Hayes said.

Historically, religious practice in the black community has been part of culture and a determinant of cultural and ideological autonomy, Levin said. The church has traditionally preserved, fostered and guided the lives of many African Americans, said Norma Hargrow, a follower of the Word of Faith Church.

Christianity was the total subordination of pre-existing African culture geared toward complete enslavement by whites in order to maintain dominance, LSA senior Erik Michael said. “We were Kings and Queens, gods upon this earth, and Christianity was used to reprogram our minds and hearts in order to laud an white oppressive identity,” said Michael, a practitioner of the Pan African Voodoo Faith.

The institution of the black church is a place not only of spirituality and enlightenment but also of favoring success for many African Americans, Levin said. Within the church, Black leaders helped members of the community find solace with their troubles and produce hope for blacks, said LSA senior, Angela Dudley of Christian Ministries.

While living in Tulsa, Okla., as a Christian youth minister, “I personally encountered extremely exploitative and perverted actions within the church,” Michael said. I personally know of sexual abuses committed against boys by members of the ministry that was not brought under scrutiny by the church”

“In any occurrence, and in everything is a sign, a symbol of higher existence moving us, nature and society towards harmony and unity with God,” LSA Senior Halim Naeem, a Sunni Muslim, said. “Religion guides a person by marginalizing complex ideas into basic tenets,” Naeem said. “No fault can be found in Blacks that choose Christianity because it has been an empowering tool for virtuous change also,” Naeem said.

Our studies have found the stabilizing force of the church offers a wide-array social support, self-empowerment, and mental vitality that overall improve the health of African Americans, Levin said.

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